French Navy Hydrographic Service Experimenting with Drones

November 2, 2020 (Google Translation) – The waters under French jurisdiction covering a total of nearly 11 million km² (with the extensions of the continental shelf in force), France has the 2nd largest maritime domain in the world. In order to assert its sovereignty over its waters, respect its commitments under the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) convention, protect and manage economic activity in its waters, the State entrusts the mission of maritime mapping of these areas. at the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy (Shom).

The Shom also assumes the mission of marine environmental support for the benefit of the French forces, in a potential area of ​​interest covering several tens of millions of km².

The ability to assume these responsibilities relies largely on the fleet of hydrographic and oceanographic vessels of the French Navy, made up of the hydro-oceanographic building (BHO) Beautemps Beaupré (admitted to active service in 2003) and three second-class hydrographic vessels. (BH2) La Pérouse, Borda, and Laplace, commissioned in 1988 and 1989.

The renewal of the BH2 is planned within the framework of the armament operation relating to the “Future hydrographic and oceanographic capacity (CHOF)” led by the General Directorate of Armament with the support of the Shom, in consultation with the army staff and navy staff. This program must not only renew the old ships but must also adapt the hydrographic capacities to the new technologies available, including the use of drones, as well as to have new means of detailed description of the underwater environment to meet the needs. emerging in the extension of areas of struggle.

This development will bring about a significant transformation of the resources of the Shom and the Navy as well as of hydrographic know-how.

In preparation for this program and in execution of a contract signed by the DGA with the company iXblue, the Shom conducted in the Iroise Sea, throughout the month of September, aboard the BHO Beautemps-Beaupré, tests of evaluation of the “DriX”, supervised surface hydrographic drone (USV), and its launching and recovery system. The aim is to qualify the hydrographic performance of this type of carrier, to understand the concept of potential employment and to assess the benefits provided by these innovative systems.

These tests consist of bathymetric surveys at different depths, reaching nearly 200 m in the Ouessant pit, with the aim of qualifying the overall performance of the machine in terms of endurance and data quality, and of evaluating its added value compared to the systems currently in service (speedboats and hydrographic vessels).

The objective of such devices is to increase the productivity of hydrographic surveys while improving the quality of the data collected. One Drix then two Drix were thus successively deployed in collaborative mode to verify their complementarity, their behavior and to understand the needs induced by the doubling of this capacity.

Other drone experiments, on the surface or underwater, will be carried out over the next two years as part of the preparation phase of the CHOF program. Ultimately, these experiments will make it possible to define the most appropriate and efficient survey means to meet the growing needs for hydrographic surveys.

Such deployments at sea also aim to learn lessons in terms of the design and specification of new generation hydrographic vessels (BH NG) intended to replace the BH2: handling and implementation capacities, on-board maintenance, sizing and crew skills…
The experience feedback capitalized on these tests will serve to enrich the discussions initiated on the sizing of the future hydrographic and oceanographic capacity of the Navy, the first BH NG is planned for in 2026.

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